Point-of-care characterization and risk-based management of oral lesions in primary dental clinics: A simulation model

Stella K. Kang, Rahul D. Mali, R. Scott Braithwaite, Alexander R. Kerr, John McDevitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives Oral potentially malignant disorders (OPMDs) encompass histologically benign, dysplastic, and cancerous lesions that are often indistinguishable by appearance and inconsistently managed. We assessed the potential impact of test-and-treat pathways enabled by a point-of-care test for OPMD characterization. Materials and methods We constructed a decision-analytic model to compare life expectancy of test-treat strategies for 60-year-old patients with OPMDs in the primary dental setting, based on a trial for a point-of-care cytopathology tool (POCOCT). Eight strategies of OPMD detection and evaluation were compared, involving deferred evaluation (no further characterization), prompt OPMD characterization using POCOCT measurements, or the commonly recommended usual care strategy of routine referral for scalpel biopsy. POCOCT pathways differed in threshold for additional intervention, including surgery for any dysplasia or malignancy, or for only moderate or severe dysplasia or cancer. Strategies with initial referral for biopsy also reflected varied treatment thresholds in current practice between surgery and surveillance of mild dysplasia. Sensitivity analysis was performed to assess the impact of variation in parameter values on model results. Results Requisite referral for scalpel biopsy offered the highest life expectancy of 20.92 life-years compared with deferred evaluation (+0.30 life-years), though this outcome was driven by baseline assumptions of limited patient adherence to surveillance using POCOCT. POCOCT characterization and surveillance offered only 0.02 life-years less than the most biopsy-intensive strategy, while resulting in 27% fewer biopsies. When the probability of adherence to surveillance and confirmatory biopsy was > 0.88, or when metastasis rates were lower than reported, POCOCT characterization extended life-years (+0.04 life-years) than prompt specialist referral. Conclusion Risk-based OPMD management through point-of-care cytology may offer a reasonable alternative to routine referral for specialist evaluation and scalpel biopsy, with far fewer biopsies. In patients who adhere to surveillance protocols, POCOCT surveillance may extend life expectancy beyond biopsy and follow up visual-tactile inspection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0244446
JournalPloS one
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Biopsy/economics
  • Clinical Decision-Making
  • Computer Simulation
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Critical Pathways/economics
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Dental Care/economics
  • Dental Clinics/economics
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouth Mucosa/pathology
  • Mouth Neoplasms/diagnosis
  • Point-of-Care Systems/economics
  • Precancerous Conditions/diagnosis
  • Referral and Consultation/economics
  • Risk Assessment/methods


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